Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Baddest Men on the Planet

So last night I was watching President Obama make his way through the crowd, through his friends and rivals, Democrats and Republicans and Joe Lieberman, to the podium.

I couldn't help but notice his calm, his cool, his confidence, his fearlessness, his swagger. He looked like he was chewing a piece of gum. Maybe he was swirling around a toothpick. Maybe he was cracking a joke and I couldn't read his lips. Doesn't really matter.

For Republicans and others planning to throw up roadblocks over the next four years, it must have been a demoralizing sight.

Obama was a man in total control of the room, someone who looked totally in his element after only a month on the toughest job in the world. Last night, it seemed inconceivable to me that he would ever lose in a fair fight - of minds, backroom politics, pickup basketball, Pokeno. Whatever.

It all reminded me of the young Mike Tyson.

Weird, huh? Maybe it doesn't make sense. And it probably doesn't. But let me explain - and I'm not talking about last night's speech at all:

It seems crazy now, with Tyson a virtual punchline of a man. A former boxing champion stripped long ago of his invincible veneer. But once upon a time, Tyson was bestowed with the nickname "Baddest Man on the Planet."

And he pretty much was. Iron Mike won his first 19 fights by knockout, 12 in the first round. He was never knocked down, let alone challenged. He wasn't a businessman like Oscar de la Hoya; Tyson once boasted that "if I don't kill him, it don't count." His powerful fists seemed to have been dipped in concrete.

In short, Mike Tyson was the perfect boxing machine.

Long before he was convicted of rape, or bit off Evander's ear, or threw in the towel against some tomato can, I remember Tyson knocking out then-undefeated Michael Spinks in 91 seconds, putting a merciless beating on former champ Larry Holmes and even swelling Mitch "Blood" Green's eye in a Harlem street fight.

But more than anything, I'll always remember this: Tyson making his way to the ring, wearing a white towel cut to fit over his head, black trunks and black shoes with no socks. He not only owned the ring; he owned the arena. He was calm, cool, confident and fearless. He had swagger.

Because of that, I never saw Buster Douglas coming. Tyson certainly didn't. In fact, nobody did - Douglas entered that fight as a 42-to-1 underdog.

And I feel the same way about President Obama now.

The parallel, to me, is a bit unnerving. It reminds me even the GOP, with rising "stars" like Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and Michael Steele (Tyson's former brother-in-law), have a puncher's chance to turn things around someday.

On that night almost 20 years ago, I cried - literally, tears rolled down my cheeks - when I heard the news of Tyson's loss in Japan. I couldn't even imagine such a thing happening. In my 11-year-old mind, Tyson wasn't ever supposed to taste the canvas.

I'd like to think I'm smarter than that now.

But let me tell you something very real and very true: I never want to find out.


maria said...

this is a lovely piece of writing.

my favorite line from last night: " the end of my first term."

avery said...

i remember that horrible, horrible night. i was sittin in the living room, literally pinching myself, hoping it was a dream. i actually went to bed thinking that it was probably a dream. i wasn't fully convinced that tyson had lost until i read the paper. then i knew it was real.

blackink said...

@Maria: Awwww. Thanks. That made my day. I guess this topic was right in my wheelhouse. I know pretty much all things Mike Tyson. He's a fascination of mine.

@Avery: I know the feeling. I thought someone was lying to me when I heard the news. I just didn't want to believe it.

And, man, let me tell you - it took a long time for me to get over the sight of Lennox Lewis standing over him at the end of their fight. I would never admit that Mike was a shot fighter. Boxing is cruel in that way.